Lifelong learning can benefit you for life

Apr 04, 2018

Lifelong learning: different things to different people

A simple Google of “Lifelong Learning” brings up a wide range of results which prove that as a term it encompasses more than education. It can mean personal development, professional development, social development and more. This same Googling brings up courses provided by organisations and events from universities to charities to festivals and any number of academic research articles. It is likely something we should all start paying more attention to.

Lifelong learning is just that: for and throughout life. It is learning that is not time bound to a specific period of life and that can be taken up throughout our lives. While it has of course become the norm now that people take higher education at all stages of life, we often mentally categorise education and learning to be for our younger years in the development of our career paths. Higher education and lifelong learning sit under a different parasol, albeit on the same beach. We will still be learning new skills but they are not necessarily strictly linked to our career paths and aspirations. Hence you might see the mechanic taking a mooc (massive open online courses) in Mandarin; an engineer taking an evening class in economics or an accountant doing a crash course in Asian cuisine.

Why bother?!

In our busy lives, why would we be bothered filling our precious free time with extra effort and work? Well it seems that doing such “frivolous” activities can have perhaps more benefit to us even than our initial qualifications that we define ourselves by.

Stand out to your employer

Employers and perspective employers now want to see more evidence of emotional intelligence in the workplace. They are certainly interested in whether the job will get done, but if the employee is difficult to get along with, has a bad temper, or otherwise doesn’t fit in, it can become more costly in the long run. Being a team player, having a positive attitude and being socially engaged can be as sought after as all the letters after your name. Taking evening classes or further education can be evidence on a CV of this personality type.

Within your career, taking on something out of your usual area can open your eyes to skills you did not know you had; if your job and home life have become a little mundane or routine, your evening class can become something to look forward to and very invigorating; you can create a niche for yourself in your current role or open up new opportunities; you can network and show your colleagues and managers that your personal development is important to you…if you are not willing to invest in yourself, why would anyone else?

Future proof yourself

The world of work is changing and changing fast. There is a vast range of areas that we can upskill on no matter what sector we're in: both tangible and intangible. While it is important to have soft skills in your armoury it is also vital when moving up and around in your career to keep on top of advances within your sector. Keep an eye on courses and developments that your colleagues, peers, competitors and managers are doing. 

Mental and physical health benefits

It has been proven that learning new skills – no matter what they are: card games, languages, crafts – can help stave off types of dementia and keep us mentally and physically healthier for longer.

Social benefit

With an ageing population, our older people are now becoming more and more of a voice demanding services in this area. Attending classes and courses creates social cohesion and an outlet for people who may be living alone after retirement.

Benefits to your employer

More and more importance is being placed by both staff and employers on all types of learning: on the job, in the classroom and informally. It has been linked with staff retention, higher individual and team morale, meeting of targets and goals and improved performance.

Some employers have taken a novel approach to personal development by gifting staff money or course vouchers that can only be used for non-work pursuits from yoga to languages to art: the idea being that a happy worker is a productive worker and crucially someone who will stay with the organisation. Someone with diverse or unusual skills may be able to offer something unique to the team or the organisation.

Intangible skills

Taking on a course, be it a one-day CPD workshop, an evening class, a distance learning online course, a full diploma or degree teaches more than just the course content and curriculum. There are intangible, soft skills that you won’t get in any book, manual, website or seminar: time management, workload management, meeting deadlines, writing skills, organisational skills, not to mention the all-important resilience. If you have to juggle not just your job with study but parenting, caring for a relative, a hobby or voluntary work it can be very challenging and rewarding.

Having done my own Masters online by distance learning I became an expert juggler: I fit in a demanding full-time job with unpredictable and often unsociable hours, a two-year Masters, parenting a one-year old, a couple of house moves, family health scares, wedding planning…I can now plan anything with military precision and see everything from a picnic in the park to a holiday as an opportunity to create a spreadsheet or a list at the very least. My family must hate me.

The biggest gain of all…

On the upside I have taken the confidence that I can do anything I set my mind to and undertaken more pursuits for myself since then. Whereas before I would have approached most things with the “I haven’t got time” attitude, now it’s more with the awareness of the old adage that “if you want something done, ask a busy person”.

Since completing the MA I thought I didn’t have time to do, I have completed other recreational evening classes from yoga to swimming to oil painting to public speaking; I have upskilled on YouTube how to build a flat pack wardrobe without cursing (it can be done, I promise), how to bleed a radiator, how to knit; I have fundraised for a children’s charity and hopefully become of more benefit to my employers too. I have also met some lovely people and made new friends and contacts along the way.

Lifelong learning is ongoing in every sense – it is the new courses and classes we might do from year to year but it is also the learning we take with us from one area of our lives to the next. It is always interesting to see where a seemingly odd and disparate mix of skills and learning can coincide to give an edge at interview or make you the perfect candidate for a job or project or even just an interesting person to talk to socially. Once you have the qualification, it can’t be taken away so get searching for your next pursuit. There is always time. 

-Amy Dawson

Amy is a member of the Specialist Qualifications team at Chartered Accountants Ireland.